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Home   News   Tebbutt: Remain and exit

Tebbutt: Remain and exit

Jan 19, 2019
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Add a ‘BR’ prefix to the third word in the headline here and you have something that’s currently causing a royal tizzy across the pond in Britain.

But it also applies in a certain way to the Canadians at the 2019 Australian Open – with Milos Raonic still in the tournament and now playing a round-of-16 match on Monday against fourth-seeded Sascha Zverev, while Denis Shapovalov is out following a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 loss to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Shapovalov had his moments – as above in putting away a backhand volley – but Djokovic was just too solid, too experienced.

As for Raonic, he was favoured against No. 55-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert and he executed Milos Raonic tennis to get the expected result – a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(6) straight-sets win.

The opening set went on serve until the 25-year-old Frenchman served trailing 5-4. A couple of short balls that Raonic put away on the forehand set up break point/set point and then Herbert double-faulted. That gave Raonic all the separation he needed to take control and go on to win in two hours and one minute in Melbourne Arena.

There was a brief hiccup in the final-set tiebreak when he had a 4-1 and 5-3 leads only to have Herbert level matters at 5-all. At 6-all, Raonic ripped a bomb forehand service return that Herbert couldn’t control and lifted long on the forehand. A service winner on the next point was the coup de grace by Raonic as he moved into the round-of 16 for the sixth time in his nine Aussie Opens.

He hit 23 aces – a decent part of the 51 winners he had for the day to go with just 12 unforced errors.

(Ed. Note: asked during his post-match media conference if he believed aces should be included in the winners total – or be considered separately – he said, “I think aces should. It’s a shot that you hit that somebody is not able to put their racquet on. A winner is a winner.” When a wiseacre reporter asked if might have a bias in that regard, he just smiled and said, “I’m always trying to pad my stats.”

Raonic maintained his forward-accented attack of recent matches – winning 24 of 38 points at the net and being successful 18 of the 26 times that he served-and-volleyed.

During the first set, a Canadian Raonic fan was interviewed on the big screen in Melbourne Arena and said he had been to all of Raonic’s matches so far. He then made a prediction – having the decency to excuse himself to Herbert who could hear it in the arena – that Raonic would win in three sets.

The 28-year-old No. 16 seed summed up his win, “to pull up two days after the tough match I had (four sets in four hours and two minutes versus Stan Wawrinka on Thursday) and play a pretty good level of tennis actually – efficient,” Raonic said. “I think that was all very positive for me.”

Raonic has had his fair share on injuries in recent years and seems to be adopting a less is more strategy – at least as regards his days off during the tournament. On Friday he didn’t go to Melbourne Park and he didn’t hit any balls.

“I tried to sleep in,” he said. “I saw a movie – went to the gym for an hour and a half, did a few things. I didn’t feel I needed to be on court. Also coming here (to the tournament site) it’s not like people think. You come and go on court for an hour. That’s not the scenario. You have to come an hour and a half early, warm up, cool down. It ends up being a three-hour hoorah that you have here. I stayed away from that, tried to give myself a chance to get in as much fluid, eat well, to recover and be fresh for today.”

He then provided a movie review. Asked what movie he Friday saw he answered “Green Book.” As for the review, he commented about the American comedy-drama set in the deep south in the 1960s “extremely good – very good movie.”

There’s a chance he could catch another film on Sunday because he doesn’t plan to hit any balls until the warm-up for his match on Monday against Zverev.

Raonic and Zverev split their two previous meetings over two months in 2017 – Zverev won 7-6(4), 6-1 in Rome on clay and then Raonic prevailed on grass at Wimbledon 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Monday’s match will be their first on hard courts with both having a former Grand Slam champion in the courtside players box – 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic for Raonic and eight-time Grand Slam winner Ivan Lendl for Zverev.

Getting back to Raonic’s day off on Sunday – and impertinent Canadian tennis writer of a certain age asked him – since he was taking the day off – if they could get together for a coffee?

He was quick to reply in a humorous vein, “just for that reason I will not take a day off tomorrow. I will be on the court for five hours.”

The Shapovalov – Djokovic match had lots of rallies and some spectacular finishing points, but Djokovic was in charge from the moment he got a service break early in the first set. It’s easy to forget that Shapovalov is just 19 and that he would not be as comfortable in an iconic stadium like 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena as the 31-year-old Djokovic, six times the champion at Melbourne Park.

“It was a little bit difficult for me in terms of it’s not every day I’m playing a match against a top guy like this on a stage like that,” Shapovalov said referring mostly to the first two sets. “Definitely I was a little bit nervous, a little bit tight on everything – just hesitating a little bit.

“He’s a guy that he doesn’t give you much. He doesn’t give you anything, to be honest. You have to be there the whole match, every point. If you have any dips, he’s going to take advantage of them. That’s why he’s so good, No. 1 in the world. I felt that a little bit. Definitely mentally a little bit tired right now. Kind of want to take a nap.”

Shapovalov ended the match with an unflattering 21 winners and 57 unforced errors. That was way too many misfires against a steady Djokovic who had 16 winners and 33 unforced errors during the two-hour-and-22 minute match.

Shapovalov certainly made a positive impression on the Rod Laver Arena spectators who cheered for him and gave him a big roar of applause when he won the third set.

But Djokovic re-set and was too good for a tiring Shapovalov in the fourth set. Later he explained, “I expected Denis to come out and be aggressive. He made a lot of unforced errors, I thought, for the first set and a half, I just stayed solid from back of the court and served well, played the right shots. For the first two sets, (I) just had things under control.”

There were many occasions during the match when a Shapovalov fan would be hoping for him to get out of dicey situations by hitting an ace or a service winner. Then that fan would realize that Shapovalov, who has an excellent serve, was playing the best returner of serve in tennis. He did manage to hit six aces but Djokovic was a relentless executioner from the baseline – not letting anything get by him and returning serves “with interest” as the Brits like to say.

The Serb did get pretty upset at himself for allowing Shapovalov back into a third set that he led 4-2, 40-15. And he claimed in his on-court interview after the match that he was pleased that he had been tested.

He said the following about Shapovalov. “He’s got pretty complete game. He’s got the big serve, a lot of rotation on the ball. He can hit it flat. He can hit it with a spin. I like his mentality. I like his confidence in himself, his approach. He’s very positive on the court, always backing himself up. I like that.

“Obviously he’s lacking some experience playing on the big stage in the big matches. But that’s going to come. These kind of experiences can only help him.”

Next for Shapovalov will be Davis Cup in Slovakia for what is being called a ‘qualifier’ for the re-vamped new 24-team Davis Cup final the week of November 18th in Madrid. The Canadian team will travel to Bratislava for the February 1-2 match-up – a two-day best-of-five match tie that includes two singles on the first day and a doubles followed by two singles on the second day. All matches will be two-out-three sets.

The ‘qualifier’ will be played on clay in the NTC Arena in Bratislava.

With the participation of Raonic and Vasek Pospisil uncertain, it could be that the 19-year-old Shapovalov and his 18-year-old pal Felix Auger-Aliassime will be leading the Canadian team.

After the Aussie Open, it looks like Shapovalov’s ranking will rise to No. 24 – just one spot off his career best. And he will leave Melbourne with valuable lessons learned playing the best player in the world.

He spoke about his exchange with Djokovic after they shook hands at the net. “He said it’s a pleasure to play against me. Honestly the pleasure was all mine, like I said, to play a champion like him in a court like that in an event like this, it’s a dream come true for me. During the match, I was smiling, enjoying my time out there. It was a lot of fun.”

JUNIOR SINGLES

Leylah Annie Fernandez, seeded No. 4, defeated Kylie Collins of the U.S. 6-3, 6-2 in junior girls first-round action on Saturday. In the second round the 16-year-old Montrealer will face 17-year-old Moyuka Uchijima of Japan.

In the boy’s draw, No. 14 seed Liam Draxl, 17, of Toronto plays Nicolas Ionel of Romania in a first-round match on Sunday.

AUSTRALIAN POST CARD

A long day at Melbourne Park can be tiring – fortunately there are a few spots on site where spectators can kick back and relsax.

NOTE: No blog on Sunday: back for Raonic – Zverev on Monday.